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Josh Reviews Jessica Jones Season Three

November 18th, 2019
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Back in 2015, the Marvel Netflix shows launched with such promise.  Daredevil came first, and I thought that first season was extraordinary: dark and complex and adult.  Then came the first season of Jessica Jones, and it was as good if not better.  I loved this character from the comics (she was created by Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Gaydos in their series Alias, and then Mr. Bendis made her an important character throughout his long run on The Avengers), and I was so excited to see her on screen.  I couldn’t have been happier with the sophisticated, compelling first season.  But then we had to wait three long years between season one and season two (though Jessica did appear in the six-episode Defenders crossover series in between), and while I enjoyed season two very much, I thought it was significantly inferior to season one.  We only had the standard one-year wait between seasons two and three, but by the time season three launched on Netflix this past season, my enthusiasm had cooled.  None of the subsequent Netflix shows/seasons came anywhere close to the greatness of those first two seasons of Daredevil and Jessica Jones, and the third season of Jessica Jones launched as a lame duck, as the show had already been cancelled months before that third season was released, as part of Netflix’s decision to end its connection with Marvel.  So when Jessica Jones’ third season did come out on Netflix, it didn’t shoot to the top of my to-watch list.  Nonetheless, I was interested to see how the series wrapped up, and so recently I found time to watch it.  Daredevil season three brought the series to a satisfying end… would Jessica Jones season three do the same?

I have very mixed feelings about this third season.  For the most part, I quite enjoyed it and while it doesn’t equal the greatness of the first season, I thought it was a solid improvement on the second season.  So I was quite happy right up until the finale, which disappointed me.  The finale felt like a season finale, not a series finale, in that it left many of the characters in places that felt like we were still in the middle of their stories, rather than having arrived at a satisfying conclusion.  (This might not be the writers’ fault, as I’m not sure at what point in production they learned that the show had been cancelled.)  Either way, I was left unsatisfied by where many of the show’s main characters wound up in the end, which I’ll discuss more below.

Krysten Ritter continues to be terrific in the lead role as Jessica.  I love this character, and I love Ms. Ritter’s performance.  Jessica is far from perfect.  Her life is a mess, she’s terrible with people, she drinks too much, she makes bad decisions.  But she has such a core of inner strength, and a moral compass that never fails her no matter how much she wishes she didn’t have that thing inside that pushes her to be a hero.

This season introduced a new big bad villain in the psychopathic serial killer Salinger.  I don’t think the writers made the right choice in structuring each of Jessica Jones’ three seasons around one villain.  I don’t think that sustained through any of the three seasons’ thirteen-episode runs.  I’d have enjoyed a few more episodic adventures for Jessica.  The format of her as a super-heroic private eye would have easily accommodated this, and allowed the show to tell some different types of stories and to better explore this corner of the Marvel universe.  That being said, Salinger was a solid, creepy villain.  I like that he countered Jessica not with superpowers (he had none), but with his cunning intelligence. Jeremy Dobb (The Drop) did good work as this dead-eyed psychopath.  (I thought Salinger was a new character created for the show, but apparently he actually is a Marvel villain from the comics called Foolkiller.  I’d never heard of him before.)

Jessica got a new love interest in the person of Erik Gelden, who we eventually discover has a super-power that allows him to sense evil.  I really enjoyed this character.  I loved the very gentle way that Benjamin Walker delivered his lines.  He’s a big, hunky dude, but Mr. Walker had a lovely way of underplaying his lines that made Erik very endearing to me.  I like that, even up to his final scene with Jessica in the finale, we’re not quite sure whether we can really trust Erik… but we’re rooting for him to do the right thing.  (As with Salinger, I thought Erik was a new character created for the show, but apparently he too is based on a Marvel character I’d never heard of called Mind-wave.)

The season did a good job of exploring the repercussions of the season two finale, in which Trish shot and killed Jessica’s on-the-run super-powered mom.  That ending was sort of ridiculous, and every time this season when I heard Jess and Trish discussing how Trish had killed Jess’ mom, I rolled my eyes.  It just seemed like such an outlandish, soap-opera twist!  And yet, since the show went there in season two, I was glad that this season didn’t ignore that, but rather explored how that huge event totally mucked with the two half-sisters’ already complicated relationship.  I enjoyed following their slow efforts at reconciliation.

Speaking of Trish, season two gave her superpowers, as she had in the comics.  I didn’t love that development, as I’d enjoyed the season one version of Trish who was a normal human woman, as counterbalance to the super-powered Jessica.  But as with the death of Jessica’s mom, since season two went there, I was glad that season three dug into this development, and I enjoyed watching the slow progression of Trish’s learning about her new powers, what she could do, and how this wound up getting her into the same sorts of complicated problems that her powers couldn’t solve — exactly the sorts of problems that Jessica always kept finding herself in.  This was a terrific storyline (right up until the end, that is — more on this in a moment.)

I loved that this season gave us more of Rebecca De Mornay as Dorothy Walker (Trish’s mother and Jessica’s adopted mother).  I really enjoyed how they further developed this character, who is so loathsome at times but who also clearly loves her daughter Trish (and, we can see in a few peeks, Jessica too).  I particularly enjoyed the flashback scenes in episode 11, “AKA Hellcat,” in which we saw more of Dorothy as a take-no-prisoners mom of child actress Trish.  Dorothy’s final fate was shocking and moving.

As I mentioned above, I thought the final episode would have made a strong season finale, but I found it very unsatisfying as a series finale.  SPOILERS ahead, gang, as I dig into where Jessica Jones left all of its characters in the end.

Trish’s turn at the end of the season into a murdering super-villain did not make me happy.  Suddenly I’m watching Legion, or the Daenerys twist from Game of Thrones?  This development felt overplayed to me, coming after similar plot twists on those two shows, and it felt like entirely the wrong ending for the character.  This turn for Trish wasn’t entirely out of left field, as Trish had been in a spiral for pretty much all of seasons two and three.  But it feels like a case of my feeling like I was watching a different kind of show than the writers were writing.  Jessica Jones has always been dark and complex, and a show that makes all the heroic characters suffer a lot.  (Just like the very best comic book series do.)  But in the end, I was rooting for the heroic main trio of Jessica, Trish, and Malcolm to be able to pass through their trials successfully and come back together as a makeshift family.  That feels like a reasonable expectation for a Marvel superhero show.  The finale of Daredevil season three made me happy because they did, at long last, bring the main trio (Matt, Foggy, and Karen) back together.  I understand the writers of Jessica Jones wanting to go in a different direction, and had this been the cliffhanger end of a season with more story to come, I’d have been down with this.  But as the last we’re seeing of these characters?  That Trish is now a supervillain in prison (probably forever) felt wrong to me.

Also, did the writers forget that Jessica, too, is a murderer?  They talk about her killing Killgrave, an act which one can easily argue Jessica had no choice but to do.  But did the writers forget that Jessica also murdered that policeman who was torturing her mother, back in episode ten of season two??  Jessica crossed the line just like Trish did, and in very similar circumstances!!!  (Trish’s first murder was killing the man who tortured, and then murdered, her mother.  So actually Jessica killed with even LESS provocation than Trish had, since Jessica’s mother survived her torture.)  So Jessica being on her high horse to Trish didn’t make sense.  If the show was trying to show Trish becoming the bad-guy that Jessica could easily be if she wasn’t careful, that failed because we’d already seen Jessica crops the line of killing, not once but twice before.  So why is Jessica still a hero but Trish is suddenly irredeemable?  Rachael Taylor played the hell out of all of these moments for Trish — she really showed what she could do, with her meatiest storyline yet — but I was unhappy with this ending for a character who I’d really liked.

Malcolm (Eka Darville) at least got a better ending than Trish.  I really enjoyed Malcolm’s storyline this season.  It was very interesting to see Malcolm being successful, good at his job, well-dressed and with some money in his pocket — but nonetheless as unhappy as he’d ever been, because he knew he was doing bad stuff as an investigator for Hogarth.  I liked Malcolm’s arc this year, as he eventually realized that he needed to let go of the money and status of working for Hogarth in order to get back to doing the right thing.  I like that his last scene is Jessica’s giving him the keys to Alias Investigations — she finally trusts Malcolm and thinks he’s ready to run Alias.  But other aspects of Malcolm’s arc feel weirdly incomplete.  He’s still an asshole to his ex-girlfriend Zaya in the finale, and the story of his relationship with the hooker Brianna/Berry felt undercooked.  I didn’t want Malcolm to become a perfect person at the end, but I’d have liked to have felt a little better about where we were leaving him.  I’d have liked more clarity on his relationship with Brianna — did he have any true feelings for her?  And the scene in which Zaya saw Brianna in his apartment feels like it should have come a few episodes earlier, giving us a chance to allow Malcolm to make more of a peace with her and better apologize for how he’d let her down.  As with Trish, if this had been a season finale with more story for Malcolm to come, I’d have been happy, but as the last we’ll (probably) ever see of him, I felt somewhat unsatisfied.

Jeri Hogarth continued to be a complicated, flawed character this season, which I love, and Carrie-Ann Moss continued to kill it in the role.  Seeing Jeri struggle with her terminal diagnosis all season long was very moving.  Of all the characters, I felt Jeri landed in the most correct place.  I was worried at first, in that final scene with Kith (Sarita Choudhury), that the two would wind up together with all Jeri’s sins forgotten/forgiven.  (Kith started the scene acting so friendly, even lovey.)  But it’s right that Kith wouldn’t be able to forgive Jeri, and I’m glad she stood up to Jeri and walked out of her life.  OK, telling her that she will die alone was harsh, but Jeri did have it coming.  But the scene ended with a hint of redemption, which felt right to me.  I just might believe Jeri when she declares that Kith will be the last mistake she ever makes.  I can also see this being one more example of Jeri’s deluding herself, going into something with good intentions but then falling back to her darker impulses.  I like that the ending leaves us both possibilities.

I was delighted to see Luke Cage (Mike Colter) pop up for a scene in the finale.  Mr. Bendis’ years of work writing Jessica in the comics had established Jessica and Luke as soulmates, so I’d been hoping they’d bring Luke back onto the show and get the two characters back together.  They didn’t go that route, but nonetheless I was very happy to see Luke back on the show.  They did a good job handling where the cliffhanger ending of Luke’s cancelled show had left him (taking over the criminal underworld of Harlem).  Luke was much better dressed than he’d ever been before for his scene here, which allowed the show to subtly acknowledge his new status quo without directly talking about it in a way that would have been too confusing and too much baggage for this one scene.  Luke acted like the good guy we always knew him as, which felt right, while we also didn’t get anything contradicting or ignoring the developments of the Luke Cage finale.  I wish we’d gotten more than just one Luke scene here, but I was happy with what we got.  (This was Jessica Jones’ only connection to the other Netflix Marvel shows this season, other than a few mentions of Rand as a major client of Hogarth’s.)

The very last scene of the finale was perplexing.  I was delighted to get one last hint of Killgrave, as we heard David Tennant’s voice in voice-over.  But I’ve watched that scene twice and I’m still not certain what it meant.  Was Jessica smiling because she’d finally been able to leave all her struggles and trauma — which were mostly begun by Killgrave — behind, by leaving the city and her attempts at being a hero?  Or, by not picking up the train ticket, are we to understand that she’d decided not to leave after all?  (Does that mean that Malcolm is about to find out that he doesn’t get to run Alias after all??)  I’m all for an enigmatic ending (see above that I liked where they left Jeri), but I really wish we’d gotten a little more clarity on where we were leaving Jessica at the end.  What is her mindset, and where is she going?  After many years of following this character, I wanted more out of the ending.

Other thoughts:

* I have often commented that the Marvel Netflix shows didn’t have quite enough plot and sagged in the middle.  This season of Jessica Jones was no different.  My least favorite episode was episode nine, in which Jessica destroyed the evidence incriminating Salinger in order to protect Trish.  It was such obvious narrative wheel-spinning by the writers!  It’s only episode nine and we can’t allow Salinger to be caught yet, so we have to construct this outlandish way to eliminate the evidence against him and keep him in play.  It was frustrating to me as a viewer.

* I enjoyed seeing more of Detective Costa (John Ventimiglia).  I liked his relationship with Jessica and I enjoyed getting to see the glimpses of his home life (adopting a child with his husband).

* Nice to see Jamie Neumann (The Deuce) pop up here as Erik’s sister Brianna.

And so this is farewell, for me, to the Marvel Netflix series.  (I haven’t watched either season of The Punisher, and I don’t intend to, as I have no interest in that character as the lead of a series.  I might someday watch the second season of Iron Fist, since I’d heard it was a big improvement on the dreadful first season, but I’m not in any great rush to do that when there’s so much better TV to watch.)  I wish this Marvel Netflix experiment had ended stronger.  I wish I was more satisfied by the ending of Jessica Jones.  But that doesn’t erase all the enjoyment I got from these three seasons of Jessica Jones.  That first season, in particular, stands as a great success of TV superhero shows.  And while neither season two nor season three matched that great first season, I’ve enjoyed the time I’ve spent in this world, with these characters.  I hope to someday see Jessica Jones on screen again.

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